How to Buy Wine Safely on eBay, Craigslist, and Other User-Driven Websites

how to buy wine safely on ebay

Buying wine on Craigslist or eBay can be risky because you can’t easily prove a bottle’s authenticity. Photo Credit: Pixabay CC user smeku

 A Wine Berserkers forum member once considered buying a mixed case of 1970s and 1980s California and French wine, including some Robert Mondavi, Silver Oak, and Pichon-Lalande. The only potential problem that this forum member noticed was that the wine was listed on Craigslist. Buying wine from a user-driven website is inherently risky; you don’t know the person you’re buying from, how the bottles were stored, or whether they’re even authentic, and if anything is wrong with the wines, you won’t have a way to get a refund. On the other hand, it’s unusual to find that many older bottles from sought-after producers in a single sale (outside of major in-person auctions). Be aware of the risks, and if you decide you’d still like to go ahead, follow our six-step process for the best results.

The Risks

When you buy wine on Craigslist or eBay, nearly every step of the process is slightly riskier than buying from a traditional retailer.

Licensing

First, the person selling you the wine might not be licensed to do so in your state or by the website they’re selling through. On eBay, alcohol sales are officially banned, except the sale of wine or beer by a pre-approved seller. Craigslist also prohibits the sale of any kind of alcohol. Even if the website selling the alcohol permits its sale, that doesn’t mean the state does. In fact, just a few years ago, a woman was arrested in Vermont for selling beer on Craigslist. If you buy wine from an unlicensed seller, you could have the wine confiscated by authorities. The legality of selling and buying wine online depends on your state’s laws.

Provenance/Storage

Next, supposing your seller is licensed and allowed to sell you the wine, you still can’t prove the bottle’s provenance or authenticity. Your seller might not have enough experience with wine to know when a bottle looks fraudulent, and even if the wine is authentic, you’ll likely have no documentation to prove it. Reselling that bottle later will be more difficult without proof of provenance. You also can’t tell whether the bottle was stored under ideal conditions throughout its life unless you’re shown papers proving its storage in a professional warehouse.

Quality

Usually, eBay users ship items to their buyers without interacting with them in person. When this happens, you can’t inspect bottles for yourself, and you have to rely on photos and the seller’s honesty to determine quality. The wine you buy this way could be cooked, corked, or otherwise damaged, and you might not be able to get a refund for this spoiled wine. In addition, your seller might not ship the wine properly, which increases the risk of damage.

How to Buy Wine on Craigslist or eBay

Step 1: To safely buy wine on Craigslist or eBay, consider the legality first. Ask your seller whether they’re authorized to sell wine, and request documentation to prove it. They should have a license on file and be aware of their state’s laws regarding alcohol sales. Avoid sellers who refuse to give you this information.

Step 2: Ask for proof of provenance. Where did the seller buy the wine originally? Does the seller still have the receipt? If the seller doesn’t have a receipt, it’s not a dealbreaker, but the sale is less risky when a seller either has proof of authenticity from the winery or a wine expert.

Step 3: Look at the storage conditions. If you’re buying the wine on eBay and will have it shipped to your house, ask the seller to send you a few images of the storage conditions first, and ask for details like average cellar temperature. Legitimate sellers will be happy to provide you with this. If you buy wine on Craigslist (and you pick it up at the seller’s house), ask to see where the bottles are stored.

Step 4: For eBay purchases, ask for detailed photos showing the front and back labels, the seal, and the ullage. For Craigslist purchases, inspect these areas carefully in person. Research what the bottles should look like in advance to avoid fraud.

Step 5: Try to meet in a secure location for in-person Craigslist purchases. Never give a seller your home address, and only meet at the seller’s house if you bring a friend with you. The safest option is to meet in a public place.

Step 6: Remember, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. Avoid buying wines that are suspiciously low in price (more than 30 percent less than the average market price). Also avoid buying ultra-rare wines that are frequently faked, like 1947 Cheval Blanc. Save these purchases for trustworthy auctions, wine shop retailers, or other professional sellers.

Which Wines to Buy on Craigslist or eBay

User-driven websites are one way to find older vintages that are difficult to track down in traditional wine shops. If you’re looking for something in particular, it’s helpful to see whether someone is selling it online for a more reasonable price than a major retailer (as long as the price still appears legitimate–see Step 6 above). Lesser-known producers might have a greater presence on user-driven websites compared to stores, however, it will be more difficult to authenticate these because they aren’t as common. Sticking with older vintages from major producers will make it easier for you to inspect the bottle and decide whether it looks legitimate because more information is available on that producer. Finally, remember that most eBay or Craigslist purchases will be a gamble. As long as you never pay more for a bottle than you can afford to lose, you’ll avoid buyer’s remorse.

Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.

Ryan has worked in every restaurant capacity from bartender to management, and in wine distribution as a consultant and advisor to Chicago’s most elite restaurants and retailers. As a new member of Vinfolio’s Executive Fine Wine Specialists, he is thrilled to share his expertise and passion for wine. Outside of the office, he can be found learning to cultivate vines in the garden, with a glass of White Burgundy in hand, or hiking with his wife and dogs.